Preventing Harassment: It’s a Matter of Respect

Everyone is a member of a protected class. This means that the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws prohibiting discrimination in employment protect you and everyone else. All of us have the right of equal access to employment and all of its benefits, regardless of race, color, religion, creed, sex, national origin, age, disability, veteran status, or sexual orientation. Many struggles have been waged and won in order to secure these rights. However, the struggle continues.

Progress in attaining equality has been slow because laws cannot control attitudes and prejudices; they can only attempt to govern behavior, and then only if enforced. Prejudices were put into action and affected minorities, women, and other disadvantaged groups over the years through such acts as:

  • limiting the rights of African-Americans to vote through the “understanding clause;”
  • segregating schools, libraries, and public facilities;
  • limiting the right of minorities to buy property through race restrictive housing covenants;
  • denying citizenship rights to Mexican-Americans;
  • withholding the right to vote from women;
  • driving the Native Americans from their land;
  • taking mining claims from the Chinese;
  • relocating Japanese, Italian, and German Americans to internment camps;
  • denying disabled individuals access to many widely used establishments.

As a result, laws have been passed to guarantee rights to all groups of Americans previously denied those rights. Thus while religious beliefs were first protected, they were later joined by all the other protected classes: race, color, creed, national origin, sex, age, disability, veteran status, and sexual orientation.

Standing at the crux of this change has been the issue of respect — a respect which is being developed through understanding. There was a time when the majority of people in the country held fixed and often incorrect views about the minority. These views were not based on sound, scientific data. They were often based on the views of the majority culture, one-time encounters with individuals, views of people living in deplorable sub-human conditions, or lack of any interaction at all.

However, once men and women of this country began to listen and educate themselves about the histories and conditions of other peoples, a newfound respect for peoples of various backgrounds and cultures began to develop. While not every individual American has been successful at making the transformation toward respect, many people in critical decision-making positions have begun to see the value and worthiness of all human beings. The plight and history of a people, a country, a gender, or people with physical and mental limitations can only be understood if one harbors a certain amount of respect for his/her fellow human beings and takes the time to have a dialogue with someone from that particular group. The history and plight of a group of people can also be understood by reading articles, attending lectures, and visiting museums and exhibits that provide information about a particular group.

Until we begin to look at every person as an individual, capable of making a contribution to humanity, despite or because of their past as a group, this country will be forced to develop laws to ensure that people conform to certain standards of behavior. Due to the lack of respect some groups experience in the workplace and in many other facets of everyday life, the state of North Carolina has found it necessary to develop a number of laws to combat mistreatment and discriminatory practices.

The Office of State Personnel Policy on Unlawful Workplace Harassment, created from a State-ratified law, is one such policy. The state has vowed to enforce this policy with the utmost intensity until all forms of workplace discrimination have been eradicated. In the meantime, let us continue to work for the day when all men and women will be judged by the content of their character and treated as equal human beings in the workplace, at home, at school and in all of our social and business institutions. Let the issue remain RESPECT!

— Text adapted from the Office of State Personnel information on Unlawful Workplace Harassment.